By on January 8, 2009

Reuters reports that Toyota is set to introduce its own version of GM’s OnStar telematics-based service: Safety Connect. The news agency’s story emphasizes… safety. “The service… is designed to provide drivers with emergency support in the event of an airbag deployment or an accident, through embedded cellular technology and a satellite-based navigation system. The system-equipped vehicles also come with an SOS button, through which customers can communicate with emergency call centers for 24 hours a day. In the event a vehicle is stolen, the service also assists in tracking the location of the stolen vehicle.” The AP widens that remit. “The luxury Lexus version also includes driver convenience features such as driving directions and an advanced voice command program.” You hurt your what? (Enhanced voice recognition.) The official press release adds the finishing touch: the Lexus system will be called “Enform,” which sounds a bit like a feminine hygiene product to me. Anyway, there are ramifications here…

Like GM’s OnStar, the Toyota system will know where a telematics-enabled car is at any given moment. The government could easily go along for the ride. As we’ve reported previously, Oregon is implementing at a road pricing system. I’m sure The Beaver State would be delighted to let the manufacturers pay for the enabling technology for per-mile pricing.

For another, any system that allows receiver initiated communications has the inherent ability to monitor conversations. In other words, Toyota or facilitated third parties could spy on you.

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22 Comments on “Toyota Joins the Big Brother Brigade...”

  • avatar

    As they say, learn to like it. This technology is surprisingly cheap, especially if all you want to do is track the vehicle and tattle on it. The OBD2 can send data in realtime streams, location is a snap down to 50 feet or less, time of day, how many passengers, temperature of the car interior, what is on the radio, any back seat action, you get the idea.

    The road pricing scheme would work just fine with annual odometer readings, the state of Oregon could do the math (even if they think their residents can’t be trusted to pump their own gas) but it’s the data from tracking in real time that interests them the most. Lots of ideas there.

    The insurance companies will be in on this one. By removing any doubt as to what you do they get to charge for everything imaginable, while state insurance laws mandate you as a customer. Think of this as DNA screening for your driving.

  • avatar


    What does the OBD2 have to do with it? I thought this was strictly for engine data for repair and the like.

  • avatar

    The erosion of civil liberties, without notice, is appalling.

    But, OBD-II has absolutely nothing to do with any of this – it’s an on-board diagnostic system accessible only through the data link connector in the car.

    That, however, is very different than OnStar and copycat systems which, in their latest incarnations, can actually shut off and disable the vehicle. It’s bad enough they can track you – they can do that simply from the cellphone in your pocket. But OnStar thinks it’s just wonderful that, if the police ask them to do so, they can shut down your car.

    When questioned about this at last year’s NAIAS, the chief of OnStar had no answer for two questions: how do you know the police are making a legitimate, legally proper request when you shut down a vehicle and, second, how much have you set aside for the liability lawsuits against GM when you do it, and it turns out you’re wrong, or you cause an innocent third person to suffer an injury due to the disabling of the vehicle?

    Of course, we now have the answer to the second question. Bankrupt companies don’t much care about having to pay damages for negligence.

    But, the underlying notion that it is OK to turn over this level of monitoring/control of our movements to others isn’t just troubling, it’s insane.

    We certainly cannot expect the courts to protect us against this sort of thing. Judges are paid by the government and are, increasingly, just another level of government nanny. For over a decade, they uniformly saw nothing wrong with police scanning your house with infrared to find out what you were doing – to the level of being able to tell if someone was having sex in the bedroom. That was perfectly OK, because they didn’t actually break down the door to watch. Thankfully, the Supreme Court eventually called it right on that one and ruled that a Fourth Amendment violation. But, most of the time, the courts make up as they go, so they’re not worth very much when it comes to protecting individual rights.

    The only real protection is in the marketplace. The companies offering this “service” are doing it as a profit center. They’ll stop doing it if there’s no profit.

    The solution is to simply refuse to buy a vehicle equipped with this stuff. If you have one, don’t pay for the service.

    And find the fuse and pull it.

  • avatar

    Onstar is a service where GM is ahead of the competition. Toyota is playing catch-up here. This is one place where we can’t criticize GM for being behind.

    There are potential privacy issues here. I wonder what precautions are taken to avoid abuse?

  • avatar

    Believe it or don’t, some Lexus models actually have OnStar already. They call it Lexus Link, but Toyota actually uses the OnStar infrastructure and subcontracts the whole thing to GM.

  • avatar

    As I see it, OBD-II has everything to do with it since that data is accessable to the Onstar (et al) and therefor could be sent to the manufacturer/police/insurance co’s to void warrenties/issue tickets/increase rates. It is a blatent attack on civil liberties.

  • avatar

    I honestly don’t know if there’s much the average customer can do about this. Maybe if everyone demanded an uninstall and insisted that this come with a cash back arrangement…but that’s not going to be respected by dealers or the company, even in today’s market. Meanwhile, GM has done a fantastic job marketing Onstar as a service and while we may dicuss abuses (real or imagined) it just hasn’t popped up on the public’s radar.

    As to the insurance company tie-in, if they really want to attach this technology to their business model we can expect the installation to become mandatory, and their removal difficult, if not illegal. Personally, I would drop my provider if they so much as offered me a program that relied on vehicle tracking. Plenty of options out there still.

  • avatar

    Its just like buying a late 70s car and spending a little time to find that annoying door open/key in the ignition buzzer to remove it.

    Buy a car with all this big brother stuff and then spend some time to disable it.

    I agree. I don’t want to have anybody looking over my shoulder when I use my property. Let them enforce the traffic laws in the traditional ways.

    If I need help I could buy a cellphone to call a tow truck. Don;t own a cellphone either. My wife has one that I occasionally borrow when I’m test driving my car after a repair…

    I LIKE technology and don’t think that enough of it is put into cars but I prefer technology that helps me enjoy my car – not fund the local governments through easier to collect traffic enforcement.

    Give me onboard diagnostics so I can see what my car is doing and what the problem is. Oh that’s right – you want it to remain a mystery that I must buy a scantool to research or visit a dealer for a $65 checkup. Yes some of the FLAPS do that for free.

    Imagine though a car that provided a way to link a generic PDA to the car for data logging (oil changes, fuel mileage, GPS trip info, music uploads and downloads, trivia games done by voice control), a car that would let me check the OBD codes via a touchscreen or again a generic PDA.

    I don’t attend operas, I don’t need restaurant reservations, I don’t want the police to link to my car. A Lo-Jack device would be nice but my cars are generally over the hill and not very desireable to thieves.

  • avatar


    The problem is you can’t disable it without doing away with the cars computer and all modern cars have them. The ignition buzzer is not a good analogy. Really, unless you go back to carburation or mechanical fuel injection, you’re screwed.

    “Imagine though a car…” It exists and uses Googles new operating system Android.

    I am not against the technology in the cars. I think it is GREAT! What I want to see is protections implemened from Governments, Safetycrats, or marketing schemes.

  • avatar

    This is why I will probably not own a car newer than 2000 for a long time.

  • avatar

    Again with the civil liberties worries?

    There is no expectation of privacy – in the sense of someone knowing where you are – on public roads.

    Though employees of OnStar or Enform might listen to your conversations for their own amusement, (they’d quickly become bored with 99% of all conversations) using it against you would require that a search warrant had been obtained first, based on probable cause.

  • avatar

    Well, there goes GM’s last sales pitch down the toilet. “Our cars have OnStar, Toyota doesn’t! Buy GM, we are awesome!”

  • avatar


    Are you familiar with Carnivore, or the Patriot Act?

    Probable cause has been eroding for years. There’s almost nothing left.

  • avatar

    Wow lots of inaccuracies here…

    1) Yup there are ZERO privacy issue when you are driving on a public road… People that think otherwise need to tighten their tin foil hat. When you blow by the traffic cop doing 90 in a 60 zone tell him he had no right observing what you were doing… You are invisible and DEMAND your privacy!

    2) Tracking? LOL there are dozens of ways that you can be tracked right now… Every cell phone made in the last 5 years has a GPS chip in it and can be tracked too… This has nothing to do with Big Brother. This is a feature of E911. It is there to save your life.

    3) OnStar in the lead? Are you serious… OnStar is so mired in GM bureaucracy that GM COMPLETELY missed the fact that the network that OnStar used to work on went dead in early 2008 and EVERY OnStar system older then 2001 (and as new as MY 2005) was DEAD overnight. Leaving ~300,000 customers with no service… If you are upset that this life safety tool is dead… so sad, only a limited number of models between MY 2002 and 2005 will be upgraded…The rest of you peons need to buy a new car. GM is so good at PR.

    4) The new OnStar runs on the dying CDMA network… we can expect to have a repeat of Jan 1 2008… with most current Onstar customers getting cutoff sometime around 2012.

    5) ODBII IS tightly tied into OnStar and the rest of your car over an international standard serial II bus in car network.. It can, and does, provide real time data over the OnStar system for just about every system in your car. (The Serial II Bus even knows which CD disk the stacker is playing) OnStar can even provide flash updates to your PCM/BCM while you drive.

    6) OnStar is so tied to the OBDII system that it can use that system to deactivate cylinder and “gradually” slow a car involved in a high speed chase.

    7) If you don’t like OnStar… Or have “tin foil hat” issues… pull the OnStar fuse… In most GM cars it is easier to kill OnStar then the DRL.

    8) If you still have issues with Big Brother, keep in mind that EVERY Major manufacture now includes a “ODBII” recorder built into the car that records the last 15 minutes or so of your driving. (OnStar,Lexus Link or not)… If you Air bag goes they will know if your foot was on the brake… Speed.. Tranny gear, etc… Consider this when you make that warranty claim on the LS7 with a piston sticking out of the engine that happened when “I was just idling at the gas station”

    9) GM completely missed the mark with OnStar… This could be THE cool system… this system could become a car to car communication tool that enable cars to avoid each other in accidents, told each other about traffic problem, updated the NAV system for free… etc etc etc… Sadly GM tied the system to a the concept of an auto club call center.

    If you think AAA is uber cool then you’ll love OnStar.

  • avatar


    I agree that we have few (not zero) privacy rights in a vehicle, and this is as it should be, however, until the advent of systems such as onstar there hasn’t been a workable means to live track vehicles. True, a driver’s cell phone could serve that function, but we (still) have specific legal protections entitled to us regarding communications devices. Not necessarily for a system installed in your car by a manufacturer, especially one that does not serve as a personal phone. I think all we have there is Onstar’s pledge that they require a warrant (not sure).

    You’re definitely right about the Onstar mess-ups, but I think that’s kind of like being right about the piggishness of the prius, only people who care about cars really know about it or care. Everyone else just sees GM commercials where a mother hits a tree and ambulances show up, and those are well done.

    My main concern is the insurance industries’ desire to piggyback on the Onstar, or whatever, tracking system to monitor our behaviour. They aren’t law enforcement, and b/c of that they don’t have the same legal restraints on privacy issues. It’s just a matter of contract obligations (they can’t evesdrop though). On top of that, they have an interest in cooperating with law enforcement to open up their sources to write tickets. They want you to carry the maximum # of points on your license, and that is all they care about. Oh yeah, and how long before we get service zones and roaming charges for insurance coverage with a system like this in place? We’re forced to buy them, so with a little (legal so long as it isn’t price fixing) collusion the big guys can easily roll out a new contract plan industry wide and force it on us. Expect zero real resistance to this from well bribed politicians, especially those from urban districts.

  • avatar

    Keep in mind that OnStar is JUST a cell phone… All of the privacy rights and issues that you have, or don’t have, with your cell phone, exist with OnStar (or the new system from Toyota) if someone listens in on your calls or in car conversations they better have a warrant or risk facing federal wire tapping charges… LOTS of test law around this…

    The issue regarding Insurance Co’s “sniffing” through your black box is a little more gray… The legislation is that only the registered owner can authorize a release of that information… But there have been a few test cases where an Insurance Co has written off a car (essentially buying it) and then requesting the data in the system and denying injury claims.

    Of course the Insurance issue has NOTHING to do with OnStar, ToyotaStar, LexLink, or any other “built in cellphones”… These issues are a function of OBDII systems. And unlike the cell phone thingies OBDII is NOT easy to disable or remove from a car.

    If you want to worry about something… OBDII is the 500 pound gorilla in the room NOT built in Cellphones and GPS systems.

  • avatar

    As far as I know, my cell phone carrier can’t activate my phone and listen in remotely.

  • avatar

    Right, Onstar or the Insurance company, neither will listen in on a convo. But they can track you.

  • avatar

    David Holzman :
    January 8th, 2009 at 9:44 am

    What does the OBD2 have to do with it? I thought this was strictly for engine data for repair and the like.

    California is going to utilize OBD-2 for ticketing cars that have check engine lights on. OBD-2 can also report fuel consumption, couple that with miles and speed driven and soon you are being “advised” on how to drive.

  • avatar

    As far as I know, my cell phone carrier can’t activate my phone and listen in remotely.

    Yes, you are “sorta” right. If they have a warrant they can track your phone and listen in on calls within the United States… And they can listen in on international calls without a warrant (thanks Patriot act) whether you initiate the call or not, but you have to answer the phone, or dial the call.

    The ever so slight difference is that OnStar and ToyotaStar can auto answer a call from the call center.

    OnStar is NOT a cell phone carrier, they are a Call Center. (Verizon is the OnStar carrier) They don’t activate your phone.. they call you…
    Take a moment and read the OnStar agreement.. You give the OnStar call center the right to call you and for your system to “auto answer” the call during (and ONLY during) very specific and extraordinary events. And the system makes it VERY clear that you are “on the air”. When Verizon is recording your international call for the Feds to review you will have NO idea that it just happened.

    But as I and others have posted these systems are EASY to disable.

    As far as I know if you deactivate the OBDII system on your car, it turns into a 2ton paper weight.

    And the OBDII system IS collecting information about you and your car without most people’s knowledge and without a warrant, a contract, an agreement or ANYTHING…

  • avatar

    All good reasons to rip out the OBDII system and replace it with MegaSquirt/MegaJolt or something else… VBG!

    Seriously I don’t want to be the cash cow for any more gov’t or insurance interests. I’ll buy a subscription to something if I want that. Those are upfront and a clear choice of mine to make.

    A recent example is a Microsoft patent to require OEMs to build motherboards with a chip on board that helps them with a billing scheme where they sell users services (software, parts of Windows, Office, etc) and then bills them based on how much people use those services… As if I needed any more reason to stay using Linux or my wife’s MacBook.

    Having legislation forced down my throat that bills me for miles driven (when I also pay a gasoline tax designed to pave the roads) or a black box tattletelling on me when I floorboard my car to get around an idiot wandering all over the road or some legislation that forces me to retire a perfectly good and safe vehicle – – is ridiculous.

    Really those kinds of tricks can be marketted under all sorts of false “good intentions” when the real intention is to vaccum my wallet a little better.

    I don’t mind paying taxes. I don’t mind paying for services that I use or for the betterment of society. I don’t like paying for gov’t fraud or gov’t waste or for gov’t paid freeloaders. I think we have seen PLENTY of that in the past year or so. A whole portion of society who thinks they are entitled to our money b/c they are clever enough to get it from us.

    First we get a gadget, then someone starts messing with ways to snoop or make more money from me and then somebody passes some legislation that puts a tax on what I do with that gadget. Meanwhile a certain portion of society thinks they can’t live without said gadget and millions latch on to the idea. A new era is borne in America.

    Meanwhile the roads still have drunks driving on them, the modern new car still only gets marginally better mileage than the old one, we still have hungry kids living in abusive homes, and there is a laundry list of better things we ought to be doing for society.

    Yes, there is a serious erosion of privacy and liberty in America. LEGALLY there is all sorts of things that companies or the government can’t do without cause but I have no doubt that alot of it is done UNTIL they have cause. I have no problems with going after bad guys but who is to say that those rules will be used to go after the rest of us too?

    You can call me a tin-hatted loon but eventually laws get passed that even you might think is nutty and then you’ll have a different opinion (maybe still not the same as mine I’ll admit).

    Just call me an early adopter…. VBG!

  • avatar

    So the whole automated crash response thing is on a phone app now. It uses the phone’s accelerometer to detect crash G-forces. If it catches on, what would the point be in paying for it in your car?

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